Leaders Who Plan To Win

A clearly defined vision or destination does several important things on teams and for us as individuals and yet too often is something overlooked by the leader. When you open the map application on your mobile phone, what is the first piece of information it asks of you? Where would you like to go? What is your destination? Without that, the route selected doesn’t matter. It’s the difference between driving around aimlessly and deliberately driving toward a specific point for a reason. 

If your planning game could use an upgrade and you’re not sure where to start, start at the end. Start with the “why”? That is, where are you trying to go as a leader, or where might you be trying to take your team? Why is that important? 
Starting at the end with a clear destination builds motivation that propels us through challenges both seen and unforeseen. As an example, over the recent pandemic-filled months, the leaders who have been able to refocus a team on an important objective and quickly adjust plans have been the leaders of greater success and efficacy. 
A clear destination also builds momentum by helping us avoid distractions and instead gain traction on what is most important. The clearer the image of the finish line, the easier it is to make aligned daily decisions with regard to what should or should not get our attention.
To create sustainable focus on the destination, bridge the big picture with the short-term by breaking up the work into smaller, more manageable pieces: 90-day targets known as “Rocks”. Contrast the power of a laser beam harnessing just few kilowatts of energy with the billions of kilowatts emitted by the sun. One might lead to a sunburn while the other, although much weaker, can cut through steel. That’s the power of focus.
Even with clear goals and milestones the proverbial “stuff” happens day to day and week to week. Highly effectively leaders expect to course-correct and have a simple process to do so with discipline. They routinely the identify the W.I.N. (What’s important now?) and teach team members to do the same. 
A fantastic example is an exercise to clarify the weekly and/or daily ”top three”. They know and never stop asking, of all the stuff vying for my attention and time right now, what are the vital few that keep us on trajectory for our short term milestones and our long range plans?  Amidst all the ever-changing conditions they are unflappable and expert at identifying the W.I.N.
As leaders aspiring to improve our planning skills, where do we start?
1 – Start At The End. Pick the time horizon that makes sense for you and your team over the next one to five years and identify a clear destination. Is it written down? Has it been shared with all involved? Are you reminded of it regularly? 
2 – Map Out Milestones. Practice setting “Rocks” for the quarter by answering what are the top three to five “must-do” initiatives over the next 90 days that will yield more progress toward the ultimate destination than anything else? If part of a team, be sure to clarify who owns what. 90 days later review what got done and repeat the exercise.
3 – Expect to Course-Correct. Create a weekly habit of a quick status update on milestones and short term commitments. Build the individual and team discipline of identifying the W.I.N. – what’s important now – to stay focused on the objective and adjust plans as needed. Hone this weekly or even daily habit of prioritizing those items and limiting to a maximum of three. 
For an extra resource on planning and managing your attention to build traction, check out this book summary video for the book “Indistractible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life”. 
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
-Benjamin Franklin